Bandsaw Alternative

by | May 13, 2016 | 39 comments

frame saw frameDespite writing my sensual spiel about the whys of the bandsaw, I haven’t actually used it since closing the workbench business.
That’s because I discovered the frame saw (that thing that the savages use).

Prior to four months ago, the most experience I had with one of these savage implements would have been the equivalent of a large coping saw (the turning saw), and I believe my experience is that of most English / American craftsmen. But I’ve now come to realise that one of the most underestimated tools in modern hand tool woodworking is the framesaw.
One frame saw that has had me very interested and quite possibly got me started on these, is those big sod off things used for re-sawing. Mr Rogers has done a wonderful job of tempting me with these, and I’m sure I will knock one up soon. I thought I’d start smaller though, as I wanted something a bit more general purpose.

As soon as I got my first saw knocked up I stuck my hand in to the off cut bin, raked out some rough stuff and chucked it in the vice.
I picked the saw up, my arm buckling under the load, I’d made the bloody thing too heavy. I gently positioned the blade against my thumb, gave the saw a light push and made the most cock-eyed cut I’d ever seen, nearly taking my thumb and arm with it. This seemed to confirm my beliefs that these saws were for the rough work. But as I gave the saw, and myself more time, I realised I was quite wrong.

frame saws

After an afternoon of farting about with technique and modifications, I was splitting line after line and with great speed.
A little later Helen popped in to let me know that dinner was about ready – no chance, I had another frame to knock up. That’s how the addiction started.

Since then I’ve made many more, slowly closing in on a perfect, yet fast to build design. When I’m happy I’ll post drawings and ‘may’ do a video.

I’m now at about MK God knows what, and I can tell you a few things about the saws.

A few saws of different lengths will cover all your needs; dovetails to thick rips.

With the right blades (a post on those shortly), they cut shockingly fast, clean and straight with very little resistance.

They suit your body mechanics much better than conventional saws. Once in the right rhythm I can saw for hours with none of that cramp.

And if your other half sees you using one, well… nothing else will make you look this manly, just pop a roll up behind your ear.

If all is going wrong and you made the frame right, then blame yourself. It took me quite a while to master the thing. Stick at it and you will be rewarded.

The two drawbacks worth noting are that you will get sick of tensioning and un-tensioning the twine before and after use. And for thick, wide cross cuts the throat depth may hinder you. With technique you can get around it but it starts to lose it’s efficiency.

I’ve a lot more to say on these saws over the coming weeks – months, including some videos demonstrating them. So keep your eye out.

ripping beech with a frame saw


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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. TaDaMan

    I am looking forward to this. Seeing the turning saw style hardware on a saw with a wide rip blade is a brilliant idea!!! The Roubo style frame saws look awkward to me. Thanks for posting more frequently and keep the great content coming!

    • Richard Maguire

      I must admit all frame saw looked awkward to me, it’s probably why I held off on them for so long. So far though I’ve been pleasantly surprised with these.

  2. Jasper

    Again, a device to like for the simple and logical physics. E.g. using the right wood species at the right place. I suppose you could make them even lighter if you take off more wood where it bears no load.

    I may make a couple when one of my hardpoints wears out.

    Has anyone tried making these with an aluminium tube as a centre beam?

    • Richard Maguire

      I found getting the weights right to be quite critical to getting efficiency from the saw. Too little weight and you loose efficiency pushing down, too much weight and the saw takes too big of a bite and as a result drifts – not to mention it’s unwieldy. Having that huge amount of tension means that the ends do have to be out of something stiff, but I’ve been surprised at how little you can get away with with the middle beam.
      The aluminium certainly sounds interesting.

      • Jasper

        Yeah, I see the complication. I think the “perfect” weight even depends on things like grain, thickness and hardness of the wood you’re sawing, tooth angle…

        Having more weight at front and back should stabilise the sideways movement, but also make the whole thing “fall over the edge” during a long stroke. And vice versa when there’s more weight in the middle.

        And then there’s resonance damping. Could be a problem with that metal tube.

        It’s art + craft. So when I say “simple and logical” I do not mean that it is easy to figure out the correct balance. Just that it should be predictable.

        Keep those nice posts coming!

        • Sammy

          I know you left that comment nearly 2 years ago now, but I might add that traditional Korean woodworkers extensively use these type of saws, and the central beam seems to be always made of bamboo over there. Light, strong, and tough, and dampens vibrations – seems to be the perfect material for the job.

          Nowadays most new woodworkers in Korea use Japanese saws, but Korean furnituremaking is one place where the Korean framesaw still sees extensive use, due to the huge amounts of resawing and bookmatching that they do.

  3. Len A

    I have the parts for a frame saw in one of my Grandad’s tool chests and now understand what the twisted string was for! No blade that I noticed and not sure all the parts are there but will go and take a look later. Where did you get your blades from Richard.


    • Richard Maguire

      Sounds interesting Len, another treasure lurking in that chest. The blades I’ve been using are branded Turbo Cut. I’ll be writing about them shortly, but in short they’re very impressive. I had to get them from Germany though, I think Dick and Fine Tools sell them.
      By the way, your iron’s in the post…

      • Tyler Blalock

        The blades are also available in the US from Highland Hardware.

      • Len A

        Thanks Richard and pass on my thanks to Helen.

        Yes there seems to be lots of things still lurking in those two chests. Found another little gem last week – a very old shoulder plane. Minute gap between the blade and the front. I will send you a photo. Meanwhile I will take a look at Turbo Cut blades.

      • Len A

        Thanks Richard – the iron arrived yesterday morning and it produces great shavings as I tried it out last night. Many thanks indeed.


    • Eric

      I believe you can buy parts and blades from Tools For Working Wood in NYC. And maybe Highland Hardware


  4. michael

    Have used turning saws for years – but always acquired 2nd hand . Richard from where did you get the hardware?

  5. St.John

    I use an ECE frame saw with different blades and bar lengths a lot but find it a little cumbersome.
    Looking forward to your plans.

    • juryaan

      Hello StJohn,
      what do you think of the ECE framesaws ?
      I am thinking about buying a framesaw for resawing my wood.

  6. Will O'Connor

    I’m also on the edge of building one of those resaw-style frame saws and a matching kerfing plane, following the Tom Figden design and the Bad Axe kit (, but lord, now the gears are turning!

    I wonder if a frame design would be possible, that could be somewhat modular and could support the blade in two configurations: one for resaw, with the eye-bolt tightened brackets in the center providing the tension, and one for rip cuts, with one of the long supports in the center (serving as fulcrum), the blade to one side, and the other support replaced with the twine under tension.

    It could be too awkward to achieve this AND find the ideal balance of weight and control. Plus, considering the simplicity of a frame saw, it might in the end just be easier to make two… but still, I might give it a go. Dare to dream!

    Thanks as always!

  7. Ed T

    Yea, Tools for Working Wood in NY has a bow saw kit as Eric mentions. Be interesting to see a mashup of Richards plans and this kit if it’s possible.

  8. John

    Hi Richard,
    I’ve known about using the frame or bow saw at the bench for some long time now, (I am 77 yrs BTW) but had not come across anyone who used one regularly; (I never did ) But I saw Frank Klausz cutting tenons with a large frame-saw, and one or two other tasks that required a deep longer cut. and I was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which he used he tool. (Although Frank Klausz, is Frank Klausz of course. ) I can’t say I use a frame saw for cutting tenons, but I do find mine useful enough to keep it tuned and handy to my bench. I got mine, sans blade, from a ‘flea’ market, and the saw has proven to be a great tool, after I ‘armed’ it with a length of bandsaw blade. I don’t know how to post pictures, but one day soon, I’ll photograph mine and let you see it. Thanks for a great blog/website. Best of British.

  9. Joshua Klein

    I have been interested in frame saws for a while but have only made a small turning saw so far. Really interested to hear about the ergonomics, etc. Thanks, Richard! Can’t wait!

  10. Johannes

    hi Richard,
    have you tried “fisting” yet? I know it’s an awkward translation from German, but that’s what the long rip cuts are called – like this guy is doing in the beginning of his video:

    when I did my joiner apprenticeship most of our frame saw were pretty dull, and unfortunately I turned to japanese saws rather than learning to sharpen them… now I wish I had taken the time, and then really gotten to know the tool. oh well… can’t change the past.


    • Len A

      Gosh that is an unfortunate translation 🙂 I think I will stick with ripping.

      Good video clip though.

      • henrik

        Good to see! It’s such a simple, efficient design. Happy that you are using the twine windlass, the metal wire and wing nuts on commercial design are horrible. Mind, youdon’t have to remove tension after each use – just whenn you are ‘done’ with it – go to lunch, end the day; things like that.

        I don’t know if t here’s a rule to how long, butwe’re definitely talking hours. Standard in Danish cabinet shops that I have seen/ read about, heard from the old people about(and closely related to the German tradition) was twosaws one medium-big, rather coarse, one smaller, fine-toothed. Both filed rip.

        Carpenters, on the other hand, would often just have a large crosscut-filed saw. They seem sometimes tohave preffered panel saws, since they are simpler when crosscutting big timber far from one end (giving problems with the cross-piece).

        You are on tosomething important – less switching between tools speeds things up considerably.

        I really like your site, I learn something new every ti m e I visit. Thank you for that.


  11. Walter Ambrosch

    Sounds great, I like the concept and can’t waif for a video build.

    Speaking of which… Have not seen any build videos for more than 8 months on YouTube.

    Miss them greatly.

  12. Greg

    Hello, like Johannes, i’m a follower off Plasnar on youtube, i’ve just made ( a month ago) my resawing frame saw with a 35 mm 3 tpi bandsaw blade, and it cut like crazy ( dried ecalyptus, ash and poplar mainly). I’ve made mine according to this frame saw :
    For 1 to 4 inch thick, it’s perfect ( i’ve used it for eucalyptus log 60 cm thick, but it was too slow : need a two men frame saw)
    Good to ear you’ll give us youe experience.
    Greg from France ( it explain easily my poor english)

  13. AlanWS

    Those of us who started off by reading Tage Frid are familiar with frame/bow saws. They do work well.

    • Randy

      Yes, back in the early ’80’s Frid wrote that they were better than all the alternatives. Because of his recommendation I bought one made by ECE, but it didn’t perform at the level Frid claimed. But that’s probably because I never sharpened it, or reduced the set. On the other hand, I made a turning saw from scratch, and realized the idea had potential. I made another one that ditched the traditional layout, and it works great.

  14. Mike Smith

    Thanks for a great article Richard. I am trying to reduce my dependence on the bandsaw and have the ECE frame saw. I currently use the crosscut and rip saw blades. Do you think that the turbo blade is a better option? Mike

  15. Mike Smith

    Great article Richard. Coincidentally I am trying to reduce my dependence on the Band saw. I have the ECE frame saw and use the cross cut and rip saw blades. Do you think the turbo blade is a better alternative. Thanks Mike

  16. Ed in Idaho

    I built a little turning saw years ago but never really mastered the use of it. It has been hanging on the wall of the shop for quite a while…nice to look at. All this discussion of frame saws might inspire me to take it down and try it again. Thanks!

  17. Shannon

    Good stuff Richard and thanks for sharing your experiments here. I’m with you I think you can do just about anything with a frame saw. Unfortunately there has been so much talk about using them for resawing (some of that is my fault) and what isn’t about resawing is focused on the diminutive turning saws and fret saws. But it is the “bow saws” and “sash saws” of the Continental Joiner that can be really powerful. We have 30 or 40 of them at the living history musueum where I volunteer in the summer and I’ve really grown to love using the 18-24″ models with a variety of blade widths and pitches. My current favorite is an 18″ model with a 3/4″ blade that cuts great for typical furniture curves in thicker stock. I keep setting aside Hickory and other riven boards to make a few more of them too.

  18. Fr. Mark Lichtenstein

    20+ years ago I read the 1977 Tage Frid FWW article in one of their collection of articles books about bow saws and thought, wow, I should try that. Then a lot of life and little woodworking happened. As I’ve started on hand tools only woodworking recently, I bought the metal parts and handles from Frog Tool in the US and built the frames more/less following Frid’s design. I used cedar for the part parallel to the blade and sapele for the parts perpendicular (the lumberyard did not have maple in the dimensions I wanted but did have this piece of sapele). I’ve only de-set and rip sharpened and made practice cuts so far, but so far I like the results better than other saws I’ve used (both push and pull types) and TF was right, rip filed saws cut fine across the grain.

  19. Andrew Scott Murraym

    This is a subject I’d love to see and hear more on Richard, of course you are a busy man so all in due time…but if you get a chance–hurry! Thank you and Godspeed

  20. Andrew Scott Murray

    That’s Murray with one ‘M’…oops

  21. Philip

    Hi Richard,

    I was wondering if you ever followed up on this article/blog post?
    Was there a build video or similar?


  22. Brandon Inchbold-Stevens

    Any update? I have some nice timber blanks in storage specifically for frame saw use and was curious if there are plans for a video or build blog.

  23. Ian

    I’d love to see a build video for this… similar to the recent wooden plane one. 🙂

  24. Mike Z.

    Looking through your posts, this one caught my eye as I am really missing a few of my old shop power tools – bandsaw, drill press and benchtop grinder. The donkey work is what is killing me, and not having the hand saw version of a bandsaw poses some problems, for me anyhow. There are several different alternatives to blades, and after the frame it seems this is what causes the most grief? It sure would be nice to have something other than a panel saw to rip boards and posts with, there are some things that panel type saws just struggle with. I have been using japanese saws for almost 30 years, went back to western saws because imported rip saws from japan are scarce as hens teeth. The frame saw just keeps popping up over and over – guess it really is time to make a couple frame saws again and spend the time investment to get the blades just right too! Thanks for sharing these tidbits with the rest of us here, keep up the good work.


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